Monday, August 31, 2009
“The reason that I can tell there is a lot of pride here is because no one has done damage to that field," stated Sean Gibson, the great-grandson of Hall Of Famer & Negro League Baseball Slugger Josh Gibson. Sohna and I were standing with Sean outside Josh Gibson Field, previously known as Ammon Field--in the Hill District of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Historical in baseball lore because the recently refurbished field is located on Bedford Avenue just outside the center of downtown. Bedford Avenue the one time homes to two of the greatest teams in The Negro Leagues History. Both The Homestead Grays & Pittsburgh Crawfords played at Ammon Field during the 1920's, while The Crawfords would eventually move just up the street to Greenlee Field in 1932. The very first African-American Owned Ballpark in The Negro Leagues.
As you may recall, The Washington Nationals Dream Foundation is attempting to build a D.C. Baseball Academy at Ft. Dupont Park in Ward 7 as the hook to bring in needy youths, not only to teach them baseball skills, but to also provide educational opportunities and support for families. Serving the community--which The Josh Gibson Foundation has reached in ever increasing numbers since 1994 in The Hill District of Pittsburgh.
The Josh Gibson Foundation was formed to not only recall & remember the history of one of Baseball's Greatest Players, but to reach out to the families and youths in the very area in which Josh Gibson spent a large part of his baseball life. Since 1999, The Josh Gibson Foundation has run their very own Little League Program. And after numerous fundraisers with assists from The Pittsburgh Pirates Charities, Major League Baseball's Baseball Tomorrow Program, The Grable Foundation, Del Monte Foods and the City Of Pittsburgh, a $400,000 renovation took place at Ammon Field beginning in 2008. The goal to make the newly renamed Josh Gibson Field a showcase for inner city youths and in doing so help recruit more children and parent involvement in the educational programs provided by the foundation.
Sean Gibson: "This (renovation) has made it a lot easier for us to recruit kids for the foundation. Our strategy has always been athletics to get the kids into the foundation. And it’s working, but this field really has helped out. We increased our numbers (in participation) by 25% this year. This is the first year we did ages 5 through 8 (in the past just ages 9-12). We had a great turnout with that. One of the good things that really helped us out was more parent participation than ever before. And that is what I am looking for because, in previous years, we had NO PARENT participation at all in our programs. This year we had over 30 parents volunteer. That's just terrific. And I think that when anyone is involved in athletics on a youth level, you need that parent support. You need that parent support because they are the ones who are in the community with their kids. They can help with fundraisers, help you raise money and we are really happy to have the parents support now.”
But just like The Washington Nationals Dream Foundations goals--education is a big part of the curriculum at The Josh Gibson Foundation.
“We use athletics as a tool to draw our kids in," says Sean Gibson. "Once we get them in, we have our educational programs. We are starting a sports curriculum which consists of sports media, sports marketing, sports management. Young kids today look at sports to get out of the ghetto or the neighborhoods. But we all know, as adults, that not everyone is going to be that professional athlete and make it to the big time. So, we’ve added the sports curriculum where they can learn how to be involved in sports on a professional level, just not on the field. I can be a agent some day. I can be a broadcaster one day. It's important that the kids have other outlets to choose."
Josh Gibson spent a large portion of his adult life playing baseball and living in the surrounding Hill District area. Not only playing baseball at first Ammon Field and then Greenlee Field, but also hanging out at the nearby famous Crawford Grill. The pictured one shown here known as Crawford Grill #2 (of three) owned by Crawfords Owner William (Gus) Greenlee. The center of African-American music and nightlife in Pittsburgh when The Negro Leagues were the center of black baseball's life. Yes, just like U-Street in the Shaw area & Old Griffith Stadium was for The Homestead Grays in Washington, D.C.. A fabric of life which all came together here in The Hill District. One in which Sean Gibson was kind enough to take Sohna and I on a special tour when we visited Pittsburgh last month when Our Washington Nationals played at PNC Park.
"When you have someone like Josh Gibson who actually played in this community, who lived in this community; whose funeral was in this community; who started his career in this community and finished his career here-it's huge," said Sean Gibson. "But not only that, many people in the neighborhood realize the big part that Josh played because of what he has done for The Hill District. Anytime, we can have Josh highlighted, it’s good for us, it’s good for the family and it’s good for The Foundation and it’s good for the kids. Anytime you can showcase an African-American man who never played Major League Baseball, who has been dead over 60 years, and he is still getting a lot of accolades with statues, baseball fields and things like that—it’s special. There are a lot of black and white baseball players that have played in The Majors that haven’t received half the stuff that Josh has been given. So, we are very appreciative of that.”
Gratefulness--which many of the kids involved with The Josh Gibson Foundation's Programs feel these days. Over 300 individuals showed up in April, 2009 for the Grand Opening Of Josh Gibson Field. Former Pittsburgh Pirate Greats--Bonny Bonilla, Kent Tekulve & Manny Sanguillen showed up to offer their best wishes and give credence to The Foundation's work. So did The Pittsburgh Pirates Owner Bob Nutting, Team President Frank Coonelly and Broadcaster Greg Brown. Even Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl was there. The Pirates Grounds Crew even comes once per season to reset and maintain the playing surface. Respect not lost on Sean Gibson for The Foundation's work throughout the greater Pittsburgh area.
“The crazy part about it and the good part about it is that a lot of our kids know a little bit about Josh Gibson, but when they see the TV cameras, the reporters, the celebrity and things like that—it really hits them then who Josh Gibson really was. The good thing about our League is we get a lot of media attention. But when someone from the media interviews them (the kids)—to ask them about how do you feel about Josh Gibson? How do you feel about playing on Josh Gibson Field? I think that is when it really hits them: Man, this guy was really someone. But when I talk to the community, it’s important that I speak as not just The Josh Gibson Foundation. This is Our Field and for it to be Our Field we have to take care of Our Field. It is everybody’s responsibility. I have been up here a long time working with these kids, but I don’t want them to think it’s just about The Josh Gibson Foundation. It is more than that. Our responsibility is to raise the money, but I raised the money for you guys. So take a sense of pride in this, be proud of it and showcase it.”
Gibson's personal tour for us included a stop at The Ammon Recreation Center which houses the offices for The Josh Gibson Foundation. He then introduced us to Clarence Battles--Commissioner of The Josh Gibson Baseball Academy. Just next door to the Ammon Recreation Center and Josh Gibson Field is The Macedona Baptist Church where Josh Gibson's Funeral took place in 1947. Then, just a short drive up Bedford Avenue, the Historical Marker (placed in July, 2009) which commemorates Greenlee Field--The Home Of The Pittsburgh Crawfords--now a public housing project. Finally, ending up this very wonderful afternoon at The Crawford Grill and around the corner at the birthplace of one of America's Greatest Playwrights in any era--August Wilson--awarded two pulitzer prizes.
As mentioned in April, The Josh Gibson Foundation, in cooperation with Duquense University, is producing a documentary on the life of Josh Gibson. Some interviews have even been shot in Washington, D.C.
Sean Gibson: "We actually showed a trailer last month at our annual banquet when Lou Brock was here. We are just finishing it up right now. We want to premiere it in September in Pittsburgh. We have Mark Lerner from The Nationals in it (also D.C. Baseball Historian Phil Wood was interviewed as well). We want to premiere it in DC. And we want to do a premiere in Buena Vista, Georgia--which is Josh’s Birthplace and hometown--and in Kansas City at The Negro Leagues Baseball Museum. There is a story being told from the beginning, where he was born in Buena Vista to the end—covering Buena Vista, Latin Ball, Homestead Grays, Washington Grays, Pittsburgh Crawfords until he passed away.”
Amazingly and in a story worth telling--62 Years after his life ended at 37 years of age, a future for many youngsters still shines bright in the afterglow of Josh Gibson in Pittsburgh.
"And every time I walk up and down the street, or go to the store, or stop by my office, I get people young and old saying: ‘Thank you. We appreciate what you have done,'" stated Sean Gibson. "'We love the field and this is a great thing you are doing up here. We need this for our kids.' So just the community support telling me how they feel about it—that is the pride that I get out of these efforts. That is the pride I sense out of them by telling me how much they appreciate EVERYTHING.”
PS--2011 is the 100th Anniversary of Josh Gibson's birth. Leading up to that important date, The Josh Gibson Foundation will hold annual Softball Fund Raising Tournaments each August--the first of which was held this past weekend at Josh Gibson Field. With 2011 the goal of playing the entire Josh Gibson Foundation Softball Tournament at PNC Park--The Home of The Pittsburgh Pirates. "The average person never gets the chance to actually play on a Major League Field. What could be more fitting for a fundraiser supporting The Josh Gibson Foundation," believes Sean Gibson.
And understanding that Washington, D.C. played a rather large role in Josh Gibson's Baseball Career, The Josh Gibson Foundation is hoping to line up some events in The Nation's Capital, as well, leading up to that 100th Anniversary Marker Date of Josh Gibson's Birth.
So, stay tuned here on Nats320.
75 dogs and their best friends have sold out this coming Saturday's Pups In The Park Promotion at Nationals Park. But it is still not too late to attend on Sunday afternoon with your favorite pet. $5 gets your dog inside Nationals Park from Left Field Gate and $18 gets the owner inside the ballpark with him or her. Each dog and their companion will have actual seats in Section 201--where water and relief areas will also be located.
Complete details at the link. Pet Owners' must sign waivers with proof of up to date vaccinations for their dogs to participate.
Sunday, August 30, 2009
The following sentence had to be spoken softly to The African Queen: "Ronnie Belliard has just been traded to The Los Angeles Dodgers."
She didn't believe me. And then upon realizing this was the truth: "Oh, No!"
One of Sohna's most favorite players that has EVER donned a uniform for Our Washington Nationals--and a Nats320 favorite from the moment he first stepped on the practice fields in Viera, Florida--traded late this afternoon to The Los Angeles Dodgers for two, count 'em, two prospects. No one would have thought that possible this past All-Star Break. Ronnie wallowing on Our Former Manager Manny Acta's bench--not getting much playing time. Veteran experience then deemed worthy under Interim Manager Jim Riggleman. And General Manager Mike Rizzo taking advantage of Ronnie's professionalism and receiving Single A Right Handed Pitcher, Luis Garcia, plus a player to be named later, for what basically is a five-week rental of the expiring Belliard contract. And gives "Lucky Number 10" (as The African Queen always has called him) a seriously good opportunity for a second World Series Ring.
A decent and fair trade all around, but one that did not leave both of us a little heavy in the heart.
Winning means everything in sport, but good quality people whom we cheer for stands tall on our list of priorities. Ronnie Belliard was nothing short of a professional playing for Our Washington Nationals. He provided so much entertainment value for the buck. And easily, was personally responsible for two of the best highlights of the past three seasons.
Enjoyable moments never to be forgotten.
Remember, Ryan Zimmerman may well have knocked out that opening night home run at Nationals Park on March 30, 2008 with Charlie Slowes bellowing out on WFED: "The Z-Man Has Done It Again On Opening Night at Nationals Park!!" A memory for the keepsake book. But, "The Ballplayer" provided the most electrifying home run in Our New Ballparks Short History that very same season. His down to the last strike homer off Baltimore's George Sherill in the bottom of 9th on June 29, 2008 was as unexpected and thrilling as ANY LAST SECOND WIN WE WILL EVER WATCH.
And as much enjoyment as Ryan Zimmerman's consistently given us these past four years, I don't think The African Queen and I have ever walked out of Our South Capitol Street Ballpark so excited in the past two years than that late Sunday afternoon in 2008. Ronnie's swagger coming out of the box--knowing his deep fly was that day's game winner--almost as good as the home run itself.
Yes, "Manny Ramirez, Jr." strutted his stuff late that June Sunday Afternoon in 2008. Now, he will take his always cool business west to Los Angeles to be a teammate of the one player he has always mimicked his swing by--Manny Ramirez himself.
How Perfect. Ronnie Belliard has got to be thrilled.
And so are we.
Cool and always polished, nothing seems to phase Our Now Former Number 10. Just like arguably one of the greatest fielding plays in Our Washington Nationals Young History. During a rather routine Curly "W" over The Cincinnati Reds on July 31, 2007, The Reds Jeff Keppinger slashed a hard hit grounder right back to the box. Having no time to react, Saul Rivera ended up deflecting the baseball off his ankle toward a moving Ronnie Belliard rushing to second base. Now, with the ball changing course and BEHIND him, Our Number 10--like a Whirling Dervish--stuck down his glove hand to his left as he continued falling away from the play--caught the baseball--continued twirling in an about face motion--right to left. Then to the great delight of 20,165 at RFK Stadium--turned with his back to the play while releasing the baseball from his glove hand perfectly to Felipe Lopez standing on second base to retire Ryan Freel. A no look catch and throw that was one of The Best Defensive Plays Of The Year. Even Ronnie Belliard had to laugh at his performance.
Yet his workmanlike efforts, displayed daily on the field, were not a laughing matter. Now at 34 Years Of Age and on the downside of a solid Major League Career, Ronnie Belliard still turns the double play at second base as well as anyone else in the game. He didn't get that "The Ballplayer" moniker here on Nats320 from loafing on the field. Belliard always gave his best and was never short-changed on a single swing standing at the plate wearing a D.C. Uniform. How else would we give him his other great nickname--"Manny Ramirez, Jr."?
"No one walks to the plate like he owned the diamond quite like Ronnie Belliard," always stated The African Queen.
Unquestionably, Ronnie has no where near the power of his now new teammate and nicknamed namesake in Los Angeles, but not many players swing the bat as hard as Belliard. So determined to be a game changer, he has used the exact bat model and make of Albert Pujols--The St.Louis Cardinals' great slugger--since 2006--whom Ronnie was a teammate with when The Cards won The World Series that year.
A complete player, Sohna always appreciated his efforts in NatsTown. And Ronnie Belliard always acknowledged her support. In just a friendly way, they hit it off. Every single time The African Queen ran into Our Former Number 10 around the ballparks, Ronnie would always stop and chat with her.
He was cool. Just like all his wonderful nicknames we used for him:
"Manny Ramirez, Jr."
And, of course, "Our Lucky Number 10"--Sohna's personal favorite.
Three monikers officially retired this evening with Ronnie Belliard heading to Los Angeles to play for The Dodgers.
Enjoyable memories are what always brings Sohna and I back to Spring Training in Viera, Florida and Nationals Park for each and every home game. And it's personalities like Ronnie Belliard that make every single one of those trips worthwhile. There was never a dull moment with Ronnie Belliard at the plate or in the field for Our Washington Nationals. And we will always hold a soft spot for Our Former Number 10.
Understand, Ronnie Belliard made baseball fun for The African Queen and for that alone--he will always be held close to our hearts.
Good Luck Ronnie Bellard. Thanks for the wonderful memories.
PS--Make no mistake about it, when The Los Angeles Dodgers visit Nationals Park in September, we will be cheering for Ronnie Belliard. And if his new "MannyWood" team goes deep into the playoffs, we will be following "Our Lucky Number 10" closely--hoping he gets that ring.
Saturday, August 29, 2009
There was virtually zero opportunity to watch Our Washington Nationals take on The St. Louis Cardinals tonight from Busch Stadium. Assigned to cover Senator Ted Kennedy's Funeral, work began at day break this morning and did not end until late this evening. Although, there was a Nationals Moment when the entire entourage drove to D.C. from Andrews Air Force Base. The hearse, family and police escort crossed the South Capitol Street Bridge at approximately 6:30PM in Washington, D.C. this evening and drove slowly past Our Ballpark on the way to the U.S. Capitol. The moment noted by a few of the networks covering and appreciated by The African Queen and I.
Yes, there were more important matters today than watching Our Washington Nationals.
Friday, August 28, 2009
First, that other Nats Killer not known as Hanley Ramirez--Khalil Greene--slammed out a pinch hit home run off John Lannan tying this rather well pitched ball game at two apiece with one out in the bottom of the 8th in St. Louis. Then, that National League Killer Of All Pitchers--Albert Pujols--took Jason Bergmann deep three pitches into the bottom of the 9th for a walk-off winning home run.
Just like that, what was so close to being a Curly "W", quickly was recorded as loss number 83 of 2009 for Our Washington Nationals. The St. Louis Cardinals winning in dramatic fashion 3-2.
Sadly, Our Number 31 didn't get a personal victory, for outside of his complete game win earlier this year at Nationals Park, John Lannan probably pitched his best game of the year. He was locked in. And when he got into trouble twice--he induced key double play grounders that swiftly ended rallies by The Cards. Not one to overpower or strikeout many hitters, Lannan let his defense help him out--that and a few key off-speed pitches which Pujols and the hard hitting Cardinals lineup kept on pounding into the dirt.
Good hard stuff, which is the only way John Smoltz has ever pitched and did so again tonight during his six strong innings for St.Louis. But you can't tell me Smoltz doesn't look strange in St.Louis Red? And wearing Number 30, not his customary 29. Watching him wear a BoSox uniform earlier this season at Nationals Park was odd enough--but at least he was pitching then in The American League. A huge difference watching him wear a National League Rival Jersey to The Atlanta Braves.
Baseball is really strange sometimes. And Smoltz in a St. Louis Cardinals Uniform is one of them.
But how about that Elijah Dukes? He had an outstanding game with two doubles, one single, and one run scored. Our Number 34 also flashed some serious leather by tracking down a short fly by Mark DeRosa in the 4th--near the foul line behind first base. Then, late in the game, smashing himself up against the right field foul line barrier to snare a pop up by Julio Lugo. An excellent effort from a young man that has struggled consistently hitting and fielding baseballs--on the very night Ryan Zimmerman (two walks) and Adam Dunn couldn't provide any firepower.
Having to be up very early for work tomorrow, this post will have to wind down right now. But this loss was one of the hardest ones to watch all year. Our Washington Nationals played a very competitive game against a true World Series Contender and Sure Fire Hall Of Fame Opposing Starter in Smoltz. Only to lose when Chad Cordero's Old Nemesis--Khalil Greene--came back to haunt "The Chief's" former team. And The Greatest Power Hitter In The Game--Albert Pujols--decided to take matters in his own hands--like Albert has done so many times in what is unquestionably a Hall Of Fame Career of his own.
This defeat was a Heartbreaker--because John Lannan deserved better this evening at Busch Stadium in St. Louis.
PS--One more point. You have got to love the support The St.Louis Cardinals receive every day in their home town. Hopefully one day, NatsTown will be somewhat similar. The majority of Cardinal fans dress in red. Most everyone certainly has on red & white in some fashion. They stand and cheer opposing players for fine plays. They stood and gave John Smoltz a standing ovation as he stepped to the plate for his very first at-bat wearing the home whites of St. Louis tonight. Despite being a rival all those years in Atlanta, St.Louis Fans appreciated the very fact John Smoltz freely chose The Cardinals to help them win a potential National League Pennant in 2009.
And just as baseball fans this evening, Sohna and I enjoyed watching The Spirit Of St.Louis. Really Good Fans there.
Tonight's InGame Photos--Jeff Roberson (AP)
No matter who scores the most runs this evening in Major League Baseball or which team loses, there is one particular player that's in our thoughts. A real professional who is definitely a winner tonight no matter the outcome. Just a little over five months since Open Heart Value Surgery, Aaron Boone returns to action this evening starting for The Houston Astros in Phoenix. Arizona. Sohna and I couldn't be happier for one of the nicest men that has ever worn a jersey representing Our Washington Nationals.
Welcome Back Aaron!! The best of health to you. We wish you only the very, very best!!
Thursday, August 27, 2009
Were they lucky or were they just good? Or, as it turned out, was it just bad luck?
Offensive production early by Our Washington Nationals. Two manufactured runs (one in which Nyjer Morgan was injured). A laser beam two run homer from Ryan Zimmerman.
An eventual five run lead into the third frame.
Slowly evaporated by The Chicago Cubs.
You see, Our Batting Lineup just went cold after Adam Dunn's 34th Home Run of 2009--not a single base hit by Washington from this point on after learning Nyjer Morgan had broken his left hand while stealing third base--while The Cubbies bats finally heated up.
Sensing opportunity, Chicago kept on fighting their way back--bit by bit.
Strong early, Washington's Starter, J.D. Martin, began to take his lumps the second time through the home side's batting lineup. A refresher course The Cubs' Starter Randy Wells was educated on early by D.C.'s Team, fully absorbed, acknowledged and then used by Wells to actually make his way into the 7th inning. A distance not seemed possible in the 3rd.
A two run homer by Aramis Ramirez finally got Chicago on the board in the bottom of the 3rd. Derrek Lee adding one more score in the bottom of the 5th with a absolute blast of a home run off Martin to left field. And The Cubs adding their fourth run in the bottom of the 7th (off Tyler Clippard) when Northern Virginia's Jeff Baker (Gar-Field High School, next to Potomac Mills Mall) received the dreaded leadoff walk from Tyler Clippard and moved around the bases quickly--thanks to two more hits by--yes--Lee and Ramirez.
A solid early advantage now all but given up by Washington, then nearly thrown away--yet saved--thanks to The Defensive Play Of This Game.
Washington's J.D. Martin couldn't finish what in started this afternoon. And on this overcast and cool day at the corners of Sheffield & Waveland on the North Side of Chicago, Tyler Clippard could not shut down The Cubbies as well. Now, it was Sean Burnett's opportunity to save Our Washington Nationals from yet another bullpen collapse. One of those potential mind numbing losses that hit you right in the gut. Lose a top player, then lose a winnable game. A defeat that makes you think about being beaten-hours after the actual game has concluded. Yeah, no doubt, we were heading in this exact direction.
Derrek Lee now standing on 3rd Base representing the game tying run. Aramis Ramirez on 1st representing the go ahead. Kosuke Fukudome standing at the plate waiting patiently with this game on the line.
The Game Break Moment.
The lefty swinging Japanese Import was facing the lefty Burnett--each not giving into the other. Nothing but sliders from Sean. Two times over the plate with resultant swinging strikes from Fukudome. Two times well off the plate for balls. A 2-2 standstill reaching its climatic point--only to see a potential detour develop--the distraction of a Wild Pitch.
Looking for the strikeout blow to end The Cubs' latest rally, Sean Burnett threw a fifth consecutive slider that was so low, in the dirt, and not anywhere near where his catcher Josh Bard thought the pitch was going--that it hit off Bard's right shin guard and bounced away toward the first base dugout. Not a long way, but that JUST ENOUGH distance that makes virtually any runner on third, fast or not--in a one run ball game--feel that they can make it.
Derrek Lee felt he could accomplish just that and HE TOOK OFF FOR HOME--looking to score the game tying run.
As nearly the entire crowd of 35,134 rose to their feet in great anticipation, Josh Bard scrambled and lumbered as swiftly as his injured groin would take him, picked up the baseball as Lee began a head first slide into home plate. And shuttled the baseball from his stomach as Burnett retrieved his toss in his bare hand--his left hand, and slapped down the tag on Derrek Lee with his GLOVE HAND--the one without the ball. Home Plate Umpire Bill Welke looking right down on the collision from behind home plate signaled OUT!! Out At The Plate!! Sure enough, replays showed Sean Burnett had gotten down the real tag on Lee, but only after Derrek's forward hand had slapped down on home plate.
Hustle and the desire to win had overcame possible misfortune for Washington. Wrigleyville howled in disbelief!!
A lucky call that ended this inning and, surprisingly, didn't receive any complaints from the always pugnacious Chicago Manager Lou Piniella. And sent Washington to their respective dugout happy they had survived. Beneficial, of a Bang!! Bang!! play always difficult to call with the naked eye.
Fortune that again played out just two innings later in the bottom of the 9th. Still protecting that one lead, Mike MacDougal had been called on by Interim Manager Jim Riggleman to close out a difficult five out save beginning in the 8th. One in which all Washington's hopes rode on the very fact no one on DC's Team wanted to see either Lee or Ramirez (a combined 5 for 6 today at the plate with two home runs, four rbi and three runs scored) ever step to the plate again until 2010 against Our Washington Nationals.
No, no one wanted to see that. But when MacDougal walked Chicago's Sam Fuld to leadoff the bottom of the 9th--anything was now possible--even a potential demoralizing last moment loss. Yet even when that local product, Baker, couldn't put down a key sacrifice bunt and struck out for the first out of the final frame--luck did not seem again on Our Washington Nationals side.
Having lost Nyjer Morgan, having received a beneficial call at home plate--fate was again at hand when MacDougal heaved off another wild pitch--in the least opportune time. A dirt toss that bounced off the brick backstop and ricocheted slightly down the 3rd base line. A free pass which allowed Fuld of The Cubs into scoring position--the tying run--with just one out. One of those very moments where you don't want to see a contact hitter like Chicago Shortstop Ryan Theriot step to the plate. Guys that hit to all fields that beat you in these situations because they most always slap the ball hard.
Which is exactly what The Cubbie Shortstop did.
Theriot absolutely HAMMERED a 96MPH Fastball into a hard grounder--right at Ryan Zimmerman. A baseball hit so hard only God-Given reflexes can make a defensive play happen. Surely enough, Zimmy--always working with skill and rarely with luck, slightly moved in and fielded the short hop, then set sail a perfect toss to Ronnie Belliard at 1st base for out number two. The Key Out in a potential rally changing inning. Important, because this Defensive Gem meant neither Derrek Lee or Aramis Ramirez would step to the plate again this day--if only Mike MacDougal could record the final out--now represented by Milton Bradley.
Sometimes you have to be good, other times a little lucky--and this afternoon at Wrigley Field--Washington played both sides of the coin after they lost their most exciting player.
Known for his erratic behavior and booed all afternoon by Chicago's Faithful, This Original Montreal Expo Prospect now stepping to the plate for The Cubs was actually feeling the warmth of a standing and cheering home crowd. One wishing, hoping, and wanting to see a game tying or winning stroke from their beloved Cubbies. Opportunity lost when Our Number 54 continued to just throw overpowering fastball after overpowering fastball--skill that can't be taught. MacDougal throws so hard--in the high 90's--he just can't control his pitches well. And as it turned out, neither could Bradley control his bat against those flame thrown pitches.
Milton Bradley grounding out to Alberto Gonzalez to end this game. Those Cubbie hardcore fans returning to their anger, venting it all back on their very own rightfielder-- raining down a parade of boos upon Milton Bradley. Of no matter to Washington--because this thriller was officially over.
Final Score from Wrigley Field where Washington took the early lead and held on for dear life at the end--Our Washington Nationals 5 and The Chicago Cubs 4. Whether or not DC's Team was lucky, good or a little of both today--did not matter at the end of the afternoon. Curly "W" Number 46 showed desire by DC's Team. The longing to win, in the face of adversity--the losing of a teammate. And bad break or not, Washington never gave up until that last out was FINALLY--recorded. Not many teams can make most any victory a nail biter quite like Washington's. But in one of those exhilarating, down to the last out confrontations, today's adventure and misfortune at Wrigley Field/Chicago was a really good ball game. An affair that always brings baseball fans back--craving for more.
Yeah, this was a good one from The Friendly Confines, despite losing Nyjer Morgan to a season ending freak injury (more on that coming in the Game Notes & Highlights)
Game Notes & Highlights
J.D. Martin received his third career win today in six decisions. Our Number 60 was sharp early, not so much late. Given a big lead, he really didn't hold it well and tired noticeably after five complete. Interim Manager Riggleman taking J.D. out to put him in a position for a Curly "W", something that did eventually happen--but not without a tremendous amount of nervousness.
I don't think we have ever seen Mike MacDougal throw anything but a heater. Again this afternoon, nothing but fastballs among his 27 tossed pitches. Never one to throw any pitch dead straight, Our Number 54 recorded his 14th save of 2009--this one over 1.2 innings. And in doing so, solidified himself as closer--whether or not Mike actually knows where all of his pitches are heading once thrown. He's downright scary (in that good way) and that might not be too bad after all. No hitter is probably going to dig in at the plate on Mike MacDougal.
Although Nyjer Morgan manufactured Washington's first run this afternoon by garnering a leadoff walk, stealing second and third base and scoring on Cristian Guzman's double--Our Number 1 jammed his left hand sliding head first into 3rd and was taken out of the game as a precaution. And then the very bad and sad news came--Nyjer Morgan out for the season with a broken second metacarpal of the left hand. An injury that takes six weeks to heal. Time that will cover the remaining scheduled games.
"One step forward, two steps backward," replied The African Queen when I notified her of Nyjer's prognosis. She was crushed. Fortunately, it's not a very serious injury. One that can be recovered from without threatening a career. Personally, I broke my 5th metacarpal on my left hand twice playing baseball--each time on fastballs taken inside. Did that ever hurt!!
The Z-Man hit his 27th home run of 2009 moments after "The Guz" hit his 1st inning run scoring double by torching a Randy Wells fastball--below his knees--but perfectly placed for any hitter with power and extension. If the wind had been blowing out today at Wrigley, that ball might have cleared over the bleachers and onto Sheffield Avenue. Zimmerman crushed that baseball. Much like what Adam Dunn did to Wells in the bottom of the 3rd when he jacked a slightly over the outside portion of the plate pitch by Wells that carried deep into the centerfield bleachers at Wrigley. Dunn's 24th career home run at The Friendly Confines.
Ironically, Dunn's 90th RBI was also Washington's very last hit this day. Just two walks allowed by Cub Pitching the rest of the way. The shutdown mode following the loss of Nyjer that allowed Chicago to creep back into this affair.
And finally--looking on the bright side. If there is good thing to take from Nyjer Morgan's unfortunate injury today--there is no better time but the present to actually find out if Justin Maxwell is a keeper for Our Washington Nationals. We know what Nyjer can do. We know that Maxwell plays as good of a defensive centerfield as most anyone out there. What no one knows for sure is what J-Max can offer offensively on a consistent basis. Power & Speed he does possess. What everyone really wants to see is the complete package. In that respect, and not shorting Nyjer Morgan in any way, we are OK with seeing Justin Maxwell patrol centerfield at Nationals Park over the last five weeks of 2009.
Today's InGame Photos--Nam Y. Huh (AP)